Miriam Lord: Sweet revenge for Michael Moynihan as Taoiseach gets a roasting
Snubbed TD’s 10-year-old daughter tells teacher what she thinks of daddy’s boss
Supersleuth Alan Kelly is always one step ahead. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators, particularly those who are not the most ardent supporters of party leader Micheál Martin, were loving the story they heard this week from a very proud Daddy who could not resist telling party colleagues about his young daughter’s finest hour.
It happened in a small primary school in rural north Cork on Tuesday, when a mixed class of 11 pupils welcomed a substitute teacher for the day. She hadn’t met them before and came from outside the county.
The múinteoir wanted to know all about the boys and girls.
“And what are your hobbies?” she asked one.
“Horseriding and politics.”
Well. The múinteoir was highly impressed. Why the big interest in politics?
“Her daddy is Michael Moynihan!” shouted up her classmates.
(Former whip Moyihan was an intensely loyal and trusted lieutenant to his party leader and would have, in the words of one TD, “died for him”. So he was shocked and insulted when the man he “took a lot of sh** for” for nearly a decade finally became Taoiseach and promptly passed him over for a job.)
“Who is Michael Moynihan?” asked the substitute teacher.
“He’s the Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North West,” the little girl informed her, with no small amount of pride.
The múinteoir smiled.
“Ye must be great friends with Micheál Martin, so!”
Suddenly, the air turned cold.
The deputy’s 10-year-old daughter fired back a withering response.
“I wouldn’t spit on him if he was on fire!”
On the way home from school with a neighbour, she excitedly delivered a detailed report of the exchange and how she put the new teacher right in no uncertain terms about the leader of Fianna Fáil.
Apparently the neighbour “nearly crashed the car” when she heard it.
While above in Dublin for the rest of the week, a delighted Michael Moynihan became the proud possessor of the biggest smile in the Dáil.
The Hardy Boys of Labour crack a tough case
That was quite the moment on Wednesday when supersleuth Alan Kelly stepped forth and deftly exposed the Leaving Cert grades debacle with a series of razor-sharp questions.
The Labour leader was quick to credit sidekick Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, whose stunning legwork led to Alan cracking this case wide open in dramatic fashion on the floor of the Dáil. Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s education spokesman, sat silently a few rows behind his guv’nor, looking inscrutable.
The Hardy Boys.
“I’m wondering if there is some issue here that we need to know about?” asked Kelly. “Is it true a helpline will commence today at 4 pm? Is there any truth to suggestions that further issues or, indeed, errors may have been found in the way in which the grades have been calculated?”
The Taoiseach was caught, bang to rights.
“Yes, indeed,” gulped Micheál, singing like a canary. “The Department of Education and Skills has found, to my understanding, two errors in the Leaving Certificate . . .”
And Minister for Education Norma Foley would be going down the nick, sorry, Department of Education, at four o’clock on the dot “to make a comprehensive statement”.
In a crowded week for political news, this was the biggest.
Kelly, flushed with making such a big collar, said in the Dáil afterwards that the full story would not have come out had he not made his big intervention and blown the lid off Norma’s caper.
It was a strange way to break a story.
Investigator extraordinaire Alan was the hero of the hour along with forensic genius Aodhán
The Labour leader sat on it throughout the high-profile Leaders’ Questions slot, when he would have had more time to question the Taoiseach and an immediate chance to dive in with a telling follow-up.
Instead, he spoke later during Questions on Promised Legislation, causing consternation.
Afterwards, investigator extraordinaire Alan was the hero of the hour along with forensic genius Aodhán. In the interviews which followed, the talented duo modestly resisted going into detail about how they sussed the secret of the Department’s coding shame.
They just knew. Call it a lucky hunch.
Coincidentally, someone else was on the scent of the story that day. At 10.45am on Wednesday morning, an Irish Independent reporter got a phone call saying something was going down in the Department of Education. Norma Foley had unexpectedly shut down her diary for the day and there was talk of a big announcement at four.
The hack got to work immediately and for the next couple of hours phoned around Opposition contacts in all the parties with an interest in the education area. Did they know about moves afoot in Marlborough Street or about a press conference scheduled for 4pm to do with possible errors in the calculated grades or about a phone helpline being set up?
Nope. Nothing came back, they hadn’t heard anything.
So our hotshot kept digging and firmed up the story which the Taoiseach would later confirm in the House. It didn’t figure during Leaders’ Questions at midday. But, about half an hour later, just as the exclusive was ready to go, Alan Kelly got to his feet and began fishing for answers to some familiar-sounding questions.
The Indo was furious.
Was there a twist to this mystery tale involving the exploits of the Hardy Boys?
Some suspect there may have been, including a few TDs in Sinn Féin.
Did Big Al jump in with his questions because he feared the Shinners might beat him to the big reveal? What if the Indo hack had told some of them too?
What if they wanted all credit for solving the mystery of the calculated grades to go to the Hardy Boys alone, and not to the The Hardy Boys and Mary Lou?
Anyway, hat-tip to our pals in Talbot Street for landing the yarn too.
Tipp TDs fume as Labour Leader nabs the glory
Still with Alan “Crystal Balls” Kelly and his uncanny ability to root out stories before anyone else. He stole a march on Mary Lou by solving the Marlborough Street grades mystery, and now we hear he recently made two separate announcements about major investments in two Tipperary hospitals before the Government, which is funding the projects, officially announced them.
His fellow TD in Tipp, Fianna Fáil’s Jackie Cahill, is disgusted. “When Kelly was in government and a minister at the cabinet table, we didn’t get any of this investment in Tipperary,” he fumed.
This week the Labour leader informed Tipp FM listeners that a long-awaited €1.5 million project to develop outpatient capacity at Nenagh General Hospital is about to start and is due for completion next year.
“This is being done under the Covid emergency legislation so work is going to commence straight away. Clancy Construction will be on site,” he said, breaking the good news.
“It’s going to be built at the front of the hospital, coming out onto the car park . . .”
Three weeks ago he “announced” to local media that a €2.4 million day care facility for the elderly in the Hospital of the Assumption in Thurles was going ahead. This was greeted with outrage by Cahill and Independent TD Michael Lowry. They say they worked together with former minister for health Simon Harris and, latterly, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to secure the funding.
It might be a good idea to hide this week’s Tipperary Star from the two TDs
Lowry is accusing Kelly of “a breach of proper protocol” and says it’s “clear that he tried to overshadow an announcement by the Minister for Health for his own political benefit by acting on information that the Minister wished to deliver personally.”
Cahill and Lowry kept their counsel as “it was agreed and known that the Minister planned to come to Thurles to outline the plans for the Day Hospital himself.”
It might be a good idea to hide this week’s Tipperary Star from the two TDs. “Construction under way at two Tipp hospitals” is the front page banner headline, with a lovely photo of Crystal Balls Kelly to go with it.
Taoiseach won’t step on any toes over Seanad vacancy
The surprise defection of Fine Gael senator Michael D’Arcy to the rich pastures of the private sector now leaves a seat up for grabs in the Upper House.
“It’s a Fine Gael vacancy,” the Taoiseach told the Dáil when asked by Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to put forward a drugs policy campaigner for the seat. But Micheál Martin is a straight-up, by-the-rules sort of politician, and the FF/FG Coalition has agreed that D’Arcy’s replacement on the Agriculture panel should come from his own party.
However, at this week’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting, the Taoiseach was urged by some members to put forward a candidate for the vacancy. But he said there was a “reciprocal” agreement in place with Fine Gael on the issue.
There may be a contest anyway, with two former party TDs boasting impeccable credentials in the agriculture area expressing a keen interest in running. A candidate would need nine nominations from Oireachtas members to contest the byelection.
Margaret Murphy O’Mahony from Cork South West and Kevin O’Keeffe from Cork East are said to be actively seeking nominations, and both would have popular support in their own party and possibly from some Independents.
“Politically, 2020 has been a difficult year for me. I must say, though, that I am very heartened to have received so many calls from west Cork and nationally to encourage me to contest the upcoming Seanad byelection,” tweeted Margaret on Friday. “Let’s see! Míle buíochas ó chroí.”
Should either or both get on the ticket, they will take their chances in a secret ballot.
So, while the Taoiseach and the Cabinet are backing the Fine Gael candidate, it is no guarantee of success, as FG’s Bernard Durkan can attest. With the Coalition’s majority, he looked like a dead cert for the Leas-Cheann Comhairle position, but Galway Independent TD Catherine Connolly was the surprise victor following a secret ballot.
No media fanfare for Future of Media Commission
On Tuesday, with great fanfare from the Two Martins – Catherine and Micheál – the Government announced the Future of Media Commission.
The new commission will look at Irish public service broadcasters, as well as other broadcasters, print and online media at local, regional and national level.
Nine of the 11 members have already been announced, with two more members yet to be chosen.
It will be chaired by former DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith, who is a physicist, and “includes in its membership experts in public service media, independent journalism and social media”.
Not one working journalist with experience in national or regional media in Ireland made the list and neither did anyone from the NUJ or the Irish journalism schools and colleges. These glaring omissions caused predictable ructions in the trade, with Newsbrands Ireland “disappointed” by the absence of individuals with “direct experience” in the sector, and the NUJ calling out the lack of union representation on the commission.
Among the first out of the traps to welcome it with a tweeted video message was Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon. In clear anticipation of an outpouring of gratitude from local hacks, he tagged the Connacht Tribune, Galway Bay FM and the Galway Advertiser in his upbeat and celebratory post.
He got a swift response. Dara Brady of the Connacht Tribune tweeted he hoped the two remaining places would be “filled by people who have some insight and experience of working in Irish local and regional media, and print media in particular (both local and national), which seems to be forgotten in the announcement”.
Journalist-turned-academic Tom Felle, head of NUIG’s School of Journalism and Communications, told Ciarán the “lack of local media expertise on commission is a glaring omission”.
Siobhan Holliman, deputy editor of the Tuam Herald, piled in: “It’s interesting that you’ve tagged some of the local media in Galway yet there’s no representation on the commission from this sector, broadcasting or print.” She also wondered about the absence of an NUJ presence when its officials are representing “many workers trying to keep their jobs, some won’t last 9 months”. The commission is due to report in nine months.
Nothing concentrates the mind of a local politician more than the risk of annoying the local press.
By the next day Cannon had issued a statement calling on the Government to appoint working journalists to the commission. Coincidentally, he later announced his appointment as Fine Gael spokesman on the media.
His first act as spokesman was to post a newly recorded video about the need for changes to the commission he had so warmly welcomed the previous day.